Thursday, September 18, 2003

Pros got a look at Cincinnati

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

The nation's foremost development experts spent much of the past three days in Cincinnati studying obscure industry topics such as tax credit financing and utility deregulation.

But they also spent valuable hours dining at downtown's finest restaurants, touring hip loft conversions and inspecting potential building sites in Northern Kentucky and elsewhere.

The International Economic Development Council's annual conference that ended Wednesday attracted 1,126 development officials. Their direct spending generated almost $1 million in economic activity.

But local officials say the payoff was much greater. They point to hard-to-measure intangibles such as improving the region's image and putting Cincinnati on the map for future development deals. Downtown boosters say that's important for a city that's attracted considerable media coverage for the April 2001 race riots and downtown boycott.

"Those who came with a mixed impression of Cincinnati left with an immensely improved impression of our town," said Nick Vehr, vice president of economic development for the Greater Cincinnati Chamber of Commerce. "I know that from anecdotal conversations and feedback from hundreds who attended."

Conference-goers such as Andy Levine left impressed. As president of New York-based Development Counsellors International, Levine helps market cities to improve their chances of landing investment and visitors.

Levine admitted that his Cincinnati visit wasn't comprehensive. Most of his time was spent at downtown hotels, restaurants and the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center.

"My perspective was that of one going to a conference, but the downtown looked vibrant. I was impressed by the airport - much more service than I associated with Cincinnati."

Local officials arranged tours of Greater Cincinnati's attractions. Tour stops included downtown housing developments, Indiana's riverboat casinos and Northern Kentucky's development successes.

There was a mixed crowd on the Northern Kentucky tour. Many were economic development professionals inquiring about the structure of Northern Kentucky Tri-County Economic Development Corp. (Tri-ED) - the development arm of Boone, Kenton and Campbell counties.

Some site-selection experts - professional agents who search for development or relocation sites for corporations - also visited potential sites; the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport; and Northern Kentucky University's corporate training center, the Metropolitan Education and Training Services center.

"Just having those two consultants on the bus for three hours was beneficial," said Danny Fore, president of Tri-ED.


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